Strategic Management: Formulation and Implementation

Quinn's Incremental Model

Quinn's approach is based on the assumption the incremental processes are, and should be, the prime mode used for strategy setting. Such a philosophy is also represented by Mintzberg.

James Brien Quinn describes how 10 large companies actually arrived at their most important strategic changes. He argues that the formal "rational" planning often becomes a substitute for control instead of a process for stimulating innovation and entrepreneurship.

Quinn suggests that the most effective strategies of major enterprises tend to emerge step by step from an iterative process in which the organization probes the future, experiments, and learns from a series of partial (incremental) commitments rather than through global formulations of total strategies.

This process is both logical and incremental. He recommends that incremental processes should be consciously used to integrate the psychological, political, and informational needs of organizations in setting strategy.

According to Quinn, the total strategy is largely defined by the development and interaction of certain major subsystem strategies. Each of these subsystems to a large extent has its own peculiar timing, sequencing, informational, and power necessities. Different subsets of people are involved in each subsystem strategy.

Moreover, each subsystem's strategy is best formulated by following a logic dictated by its own unique needs. Because so many uncertainties are involved, no managers can predict the precise way in which any major subsystem will ultimately evolve, much less the way all will interact to create the enterprises's overall strategic posture. Consequently, executives manage each subsystem incrementally in keeping with its own imperatives.

Effective strategic managers in large organizations recognize these realities and try to proactively shape the development of both subsystem and total-enterprise strategies in a logical incremental fashion. They do not deal with information-analysis, power-political, and organizational-psychological processes in separate compartments. Instead they consciously and simultaneously integrate all three of these processes into their actions at various crucial states of strategy development.

Quinn argues that incrementalism is the most appropriate model for most strategies changes, because it helps the strategic leader to:

  1. Improve the quality of information utilized in corporate strategic decisions.
  2. Cope with the varying lead times, pacing parameters, and sequencing needs of the subsystems through which such decisions tend to be made.
  3. Deals with the personal resistance and political pressures any important strategic change encounters.
  4. Build the organizational awareness, understanding, and psychological commitment necessary for effective implementation.
  5. Decrease the uncertainty surrounding such decisions by allowing for interactive learning between the enterprise and its various impinging environments.
  6. Improve the quality of the strategic analysis and choices by involving those people closest to the situation and by avoiding premature closure on the basic of potentially incorrect decisions.

The strategic leader is critical in the incrementatlism process because he is either personally or ultimately responsible for the proposed changes in strategy, and for establishing the structure and processes within the organization.

Although each strategic issue will have its own peculiarities, a somewhat common series of management processes seems required for most major strategic changes.

Most important among these are: sensing needs, amplifying understanding, building awareness, creating credibility, legitimizing viewpoints, generating partial solutions, broadening support, identifying zones of opposition and indifference, changing perceived risks, structuring needed flexibilities, putting forward trail concepts, creating pockets of commitment, eliminating undesired options, crystallizing focus and consensus, managing coalitions, and finally formalizing agreed-upon commitments.

Figure 1-7 lists some of these tactics in the sequence of their potential use in the change process. Quinn's approach incorporates an appreciation of the likely impact upon people and the culture, and pragmatically searches for a better way of doing things once the decision to change has been made.